Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mountain Top Experiences

Ever wonder what actually happens to your body when you fly from 1,000 feet above sea level, hit an altitude of 35,000 feet, land at 5,280, and then go climb a mountain?  I found out earlier this month.  

It was 7:30 am when we landed at DIA.  The first thing that caught my attention was the amazing contrast in services between the Avis counter staff and the lot people.  At the counter my experience could not have been more pleasant.  Out in parking-lot-land it was horrid.  First car had bugs all over the bumper and a nasty stain on the seat.  Back to the counter for another car.  We went with this car in spite of it's barely-swabbed-out look.  On top of that it was raining and drab.  I learned that the lot personnel had a dispute of some type going on and were voting on whether to unionize in 2 days.  Hold that thought, I'll get back to it.  If I remember.

This little trip was the start of a birthday weekend for my wife and she decided a hike up a mountain would be a great start.  And start we did at a trail head called Hell Hole.  Not aptly named because it was absolutely beautiful.  Did I mention that in spite of the drizzly weather we decided to head to the mountains anyway?  It wasn't more than 30 miles before the clouds parted and the sun smiled on us, almost rewarding us for our faith in the journey.  

As we worked our way up the mountain the crisp air and altitude brought our focus onto the present.  There are times when you have to forget the past for a moment, look to the future, but live in the now.  Nearing the peak it seemed like we stopped every few hundred yards to slow our heart rate back down, get some oxygen, and eliminate the altitude headache.  A little Perfect Water, 45 seconds of rest, and off we'd go again.  

We found ourselves spending more time looking at the vast expansion of the entire range than at the trail we'd ascended or the path ahead.  Suddenly the drizzly, noisy, reckless world of the city was gone and nothing was present except the trees, the crisp air, the majestic view, and the sound of wind in the pines beneath us.  You could hear a breeze coming from miles away.  It would find its way to you, through you, and retreat somewhere in the valley beyond.  At the summit there's an indescribable feeling.  Perspective.  Vision.  Clarity.  The issues of the plains seem so unimportant from up here.  

I wonder how the Avis people would resolve their conflicts if they both made this ascent.  Would the squabbles of the valley hold any merit?  Does the gain or loss of the next presidential election have much longevity in the context of this age old mountains?  What were those other issues I was concerned about again?  If I were to expire, here and now, would I have regrets or a peace that I'd fought the right battles and made an impact in things that matter?

In life, the mountain top experience is vital.  Sometimes you have to make a decision to make the climb, to start somewhere  and make your way up.  You will burn out if it's a full sprint but you can't lose too much time either.  Staying steady on the trail is a battle half won.  And viewing the scenery along the way makes is all worthwhile.  Put all of the issue in perspective and give yourself pause to consider what it's all about.  You'll avoid a lot of errors this way.

But the time comes when the perspective is sufficient and it's time to go back to the daily experiences of life.  It becomes evident that, no matter how majestic, life is not very sustainable on the peak.  It's always hard to decide to begin the descent back down to the trail head.  How can we want to go back to Hell Hole?  It's more dangerous to go down the trail than up.  By that time you are fatigued and the impact on your body is more severe.  The risk of falling increases.  

How we descent is as important as how we climb.  Going back to those areas we have responsibilities in helps us stay humble and sane.  But we never go back the same as we left.  There's always a new stripe of experience on our shoulders.  Life will never be the same.  Until we allow it to be.

I have a bit of closing advice for you today.  Go climb a mountain.  Not necessarily literally but figuratively.  Find a way to rise above your current environment and gain some perspective.  Cast off the unnecessary.  Notice your surroundings.  Zoom out and think about what you're really here for.  You'll find it a pleasant experience.

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